Stillwater, Minnesota, and Hudson, Wisconsin, both located within about a half-hour drive from most launchpads in the Twin Cities, are practically busting at the seams with antiquey, boutiquey, bed-and-breakfast charm. Their prime location in the St. Croix River Valley means there are lots of hiking trails with impressive vistas (and even better secret picnic spots), warm-weather festivals (just say yes when someone asks you to go to Lumberjack Days), and a ton of waterfront bars and restaurants.
That last item is, of course, the one that interests us most, and while neither Stillwater nor Hudson is technically a suburb, they are indeed perfect places for a mini road trip and some destination dining. So with the weekend upon us and humidity levels expected to reach tropical highs, let us suggest a few places to go eat and drink in the Stillwater area.
Perhaps the only pirate-themed bar in America that we would consider classy, Smalley's has seriously hot jerked meats, corpse-reviving cocktails, authenticity points for both conch and goat on the menu, dressed-up mac-and-cheese that doesn't skimp on the bacon bits, and fried green tomatoes that haunt your dreams. The high kitsch factor and spacious, riverfront patio (there's one out front on the street side as well) will make anyone who likes drinking and dining at Psycho Suzi's feel right at home.
A long day of strolling and shopping calls for a great glass of wine and a fortifying plate of pasta. Domacin offers both in a cozy, upscale setting. There's also smaller meat, cheese, and olive, mezze-type plates and consistently delicious house-made soups to appeal to lighter appetites. And if you find a glass you really love at the restaurant, you can usually find it by the bottle at Domacin's attached wine shop.
Our perennial favorite pick for best restaurant worth the drive, Phil's specializes in Greek and Mediterranean food, but has all the log-cabin stateliness of a country steakhouse. They use as many local purveyors as possible, which means you'll often see and taste rabbit, duck, cheese, and chocolate from farms and makers that Twin Cities restaurants don't use as regularly. And though they read a little higher-end than most restaurants in the area, their $8 gyro is just as well-executed as their $20 duck confit.
Bayport serves not just the best barbecue in the Stillwater area, but easily some of the best in the state. We've been singing the praises of the Texas-style smoky, tender, by-the-pound meats for years -- particularly the oak-smoked spare ribs and pit beef brisket. But now that they've added Nashville hot chicken to their repertoire, we have a feeling our trips to Bayport will become much more frequent. The fresh-baked bread and live blues are also major draws. Bayport takes a break in between lunch and dinner service, so if you arrive around 3 or 4 p.m. hoping to beat the dinner rush, you might need to find some way to kill a little time and work up an appetite. Pro tip: They only take cash or check so leave your credit cards at home.[page]
This vaguely island-influenced eatery in Hudson may not be on the water, but the sunny, cute-as-a-button patio will make you feel sufficiently whisked away and vacation-y. We particularly like San Pedro for brunch where you can chow down on wood-fired breakfast pizzas with blistered, salty crusts; generously layered Huevos Rancheros; and baked eggs with roasted veggies, potatoes, and avocado. The blood orange sangria is delicious and the rum selection is impressive.
With the rooftop patio and menu of everything from supper club greatest hits like wedge salads, beef tenderloin with horseradish mashed potatoes, and oysters on the half-shell to Indian-inspired dishes and crispy fish and chips, the Green Room is the place to go when the night requires a little romance. A number of classic cocktails (featuring a particularly good sidecar) and reasonably priced by-the-glass-wines make this an easygoing date night spot.
You won't be able to get a full meal here, but Nelson's Ice Cream is a total Stillwater institution. The line is perpetually long, even in less-than-ideal weather conditions, probably because the candy-colored ice creams and oversized portions bring out the whiny, hungry kid in everyone. The under-10s might go for the Bubble Gum flavor, but we love the Moose Track, which is essentially Nelson's version of a Reese's Blizzard. Want your ice cream for free and don't mind risking serious sugar shock? If you finish the five-scoop sundae known as the Lumberjack, Nelson's will take care of your bill and immortalize you on the wall of fame.